Household management questions for others with chronic illness

I've had Lupus since childhood and have recently become a stay-at-home (large home) and since I don't work, we no longer have any household help. I am wondering what others' experiences have been under similar circumstances and if anyone has any advice, tips, etc. I feel like I'm going to lose it half the time...I almost want to go back to the office just to escape the piles of dishes and hampers of laundry! I love my family and home but it seems almost impossible to take care of EVERYTHING all the time, manage my illness, etc. DH is frequently away for long business trips, too!

CharityL's picture

The above comments about reducing the number of things you use (and therefore have to care for) were right on target but I thought I would add that a lot of the battles with housework for any of us are about overcoming sloppy habits, ours and our families'.

When something is a routine, it takes less mental and physical effort to get through it; on days when the physical effort is too much, there needs to be a Plan B that the rest of the family understands they will contribute toward.

I was extremely sick for two years as a single mommy and my experience was so horrible that I would do almost anything to help someone else avoid living that way.

So, back to habits: what works at our house may not work for you, but these habits alone have made our house so much cleaner and saved me from stress and time spent procrastinating:

1. While dinner is cooking, I take a few minutes and pick up the common room (whichever room your family uses for relaxing in the evenings-if there's stuff all over, it's time to get rid of or put away some of that stuff).

2. After my kiddo is in bed, I take about 15-20 minutes to wash some dishes and disinfect the kitchen counters and stove (and wipe off the other appliances as needed). My daughter puts away the clean dishes either in the morning or after school (or both, when needed). She also helps fold and put away the clean laundry.

3. After I've brushed my teeth and such and gotten ready for bed, I use a spray bottle of Pine Sol solution and some paper towels to disinfect the sink and the seat/lid of the toilet, and if the toilet bowl has need, I pour in a quick shot of Pine Sol from the main bottle and give it a quick brushing.

3. In the morning, I throw in a load of laundry before breakfast. If laundry being scattered everywhere is an issue for you, you and your family will now get into the habit of either leaving laundry in one central basket in the main bathroom, or schlepping their laundry to the laundry room before their Mommy Fix at bedtime(hug, story, whatever they do with you).

4. After my daughter goes to school (if your kids aren't in school yet, you can cleverly devise an activity for them in a designated room) I get the laundry drying and do a quick vacuum of the common areas and bedrooms (in a large house, break it into zones, one for each day of the week-if you miss a day, it can keep til the next week's day) and a very quick spot clean of the kitchen and bathroom floors. I don't scrub, I spot spray with my trusty spray bottle of pine-sol (I keep one in the bathroom and one in the kitchen) and some paper towels so that there aren't any *obvious* yucky spots on the floor. When I have the time and inclination, I do a thorough scrub (being honest, scrubbing happens only once or twice a month. I don't like mops but if you like them, swiffers and such might be a good option).

5. Groceries come home once a week, the fridge gets a cursory cleaning inside as they are put away. Also, all of the cabinets are labeled so that my daughter can put things away where they belong and I don't have to call the Marines next time I need the liquid measures.

Altogether, I spend an hour or less cleaning and tidying my place every day. Your place is undoubtedly quite a bit larger-the zone concept may help you immensely. If your kids are running wild messing things up behind you as you clean, it's time to set some boundaries. When my daughter was little, she was only allowed to have toys in her bedroom and in no other parts of the house. Some might think this is a little overboard, but this was when I was sick and it was absolutely too much work for me to play 152-pickup every night.

If these ideas don't work for you, there are other ideas that will, just keep looking and reading and experimenting. Habits can save your life, no joke. Some good books to look over are:

Kitchen Sink Reflections (encouraging book with some good advice)
Sidetracked Home Executives (I used their concepts but not their card system, it's a great read though, full of smiles)
The Well Ordered Home (written by a psychologist-really good)

No one system will solve all of your problems with housekeeping but a combination of advice will make it manageable and methodical, so that you can spend your mental energy on building yourself and your family up instead of on shame, guilt and being overwhelmed.

Be kind to yourself and please keep us all posted!


Becky's picture

We do have a "flybabies" thread (weekly) on this site, for people who use the Sink Reflections/ Flylady system.

cathrysist's picture


I've been diagnosed fibromyalgia and myofascial pain for almost 10 years. I learned a long time ago to be good to myself. I take pride in the little things I can do. I try not to bemoan the things I can't do. I try to work a 40 hour week. I'm usually the only one who cooks and cleans. My husband may pitch in but he prefers not to.

My apartment looks like a pig sty most of the time. I hate it with a passion but the alternative is to work myself into more and more pain until I can't work at all. I do dishes maybe once a week or when my counter tops can no longer be seen or when we run out of coffee cups. When I do them I take frequent breaks to sit down and rest. Over all it takes about 2 hours to do my dishes but they get done. My laundry is piled up I wash what needs to be washed and if my husband doesn't like it he knows where the laundry room and laundromat is. I use a rolling cart to take the laundry to and from the laundry room in our apartment complex. I rest from the time I put them in until they come out. After I get them back to the apartment I lay them down neatly on the bed until I can find the energy to hang them up. I vacuum once a month at the most unless company is coming then my husband will pitch in. I had to realize that I'm only one person and I can only do so much. I clean up my side of the bed once a month or sooner if I can't walk. We can't afford cleaning help. My husband has learned that if he wants it done sooner or better than I can get it done then he can darn well do it himself.

Currently, I'm looking for an idea to make my laundry detergent and fabric softener lighter. Maybe by using a small container for the trips to the laundry room. So far I haven't been able to come up with anything workable.

My best advice to you is pace yourself. If you can do something without pain don't over do it. If it causes you pain take breaks to rest often. On the days when nothing is possible, just rest and relax. Everything will still be there tomorrow and you're the only you that you've got.

Kerri's picture

probably the best advice is "let it go"! Some days are probably better than others if you're anything like the rest of us (with or without a chronic illness), so be sensible on your good days and be kind to yourself on bad days. It'll all still be there tomorrow - that's probably the most depressing thing about housework... no matter how hard you work you still keep doing the same things over and over.

only other piece of advice is use your family members. Chronic illnesses are good for only one thing as far as I can tell and that's getting sympathy! ;) So when you need the help ask for it. If you don't ask you can be pretty sure you won't get.

otherwise, take whatever rest you need. The good thing about being a housewife is that you have a flexible schedule. If you can only do a few minutes here and there, then do that. If you feel that a short nap in the afternoon would help your energy levels go for it. Break tasks down into manageable pieces so that it suits whatever you can manage. There aren't any rules here so you can fiddle it all to what you need it to be.

and one more thing... just because your mother's always done it one particular way doesn't mean you have to! :grin:

everyone else will have great ideas too - there's an unfortunately high number of us here with a mix of chronic illnesses. I have Crohn's, as does Becky. Lynn and (I think) Lenora have chronic fatigue syndrome... there are others I think.

piles of dishes - get a dishwasher if you can
laundry - is never done! :P


lgunnoe's picture steal a phrase from the camping/eco-living folks.

Close off any rooms you in as few outfits of clothing as you can (and color coordinate those so they can all go in one or two loads of laundry)...cook with as few pots and pans as you on as few dishes as you can, etc.

Box up/throw out/give away anything that just "takes up space" and collects dust! Minimize the amount of toys available to your daughter (rotating is great with little ones, anyways...keeps things exciting!)

Plan your "time-and-energy savers" with as much attention as the most important "todo" you've got. Be completely aware of your body's signals and respond to them as a highest priority!

If you are concerned about what other's might think of your houskeeping...let everyone know that you just CAN NOT have unexpected guests because of your illness. If they show up anyways, just stop them at the door with a sweet "I'm just not up for company know how it is...but thanks for stopping by!" and shut the door!

I'm very big on lowering expectations,too! Kerri is right on when she says to "let it go." She's also right about asking for help. DO NOT play supermom, nor be the silent suffereing type. Neither will benefit you or your family in the long run.

Kerri is close: Lynn and I (and a couple of others, I think) have fibromyalgia. Happily, mine has been manageable for the past several years with OTC pain medication and valerian root for the sleep issues. Stress is a big trigger (as I know it can be for several Lupus symptoms, too) so time management and planning are vital. My girls are old enought to be tons of help...which is great.

I could tell you a thousand "little" things...if you have any particular area(s) that is/are challenging, ask specifics and we'll go on!!!

Do come back here, though. TNH is a great place to find help, support, information, positive energy, (or, conversely, to blow off some steam when needed). We're glad to have you here!

Love nurtures, develops, cares for,
Shelters, comforts, and makes a home for us.

Becky's picture

1. The Chronic Illness Experience: Embracing the Imperfect Life, by Cheri Register
2. Cereal for Dinner: Strategies, Shortcuts, and Sanity for Moms Battling Illness, by Kristine Breese

These both address housekeeping questions, at least in part. Also if you google around for fibromyalgia, arthritis, CFS, lupus, "chronic illness," etc. and add "housework" "housekeeping" etc. to your search string, you can find some useful websites.

How do you make italics, anyway?

lgunnoe's picture

...wel trying to "show" how just ended up in a mess......

You use "" around "i" for italics" or "b" for bold at the beginning and then "" to end. (without the quote signs)

Let's see if this comes up more clear...

Love nurtures, develops, cares for,
Shelters, comforts, and makes a home for us.

Becky's picture

I'll try it again though.

Guest's picture

I've been reading everyone's suggestions - what wonderful ideas!!! I think that in our chronic illnesses, we desperately seek fix all answers to regain a part of our life that we no longer recognize. What I am learning is that what works for one does not work for others or that there are those things that work for everyone. It's just a matter of coming up with a plan. (or habits as another put it)

I've had RSD/CRPS since 7/06 as a result of being rear ended. My husband is wonderful but very busy running his own business. I went from a 36 yo very active; only been married a little over a month; to what I felt like was a monster. It's taken so much time to start gripping our new reality. So here is what we have started.

There is a great website "" that introduced us to the "spoon theory". It really helps communicate good days, bad days, and so-so days. With illnesses such as mine and others on this site, it is sometimes difficult to communicate what you are feeling b/c your outward appearance may be deceiving.

Then, we translated that into sort of a message center on the fridge. We have a household calendar that we made - weekly includes dusting, vacuuming, mopping, wiping appliances, laundry, etc. Also included are monthly, quarterly, 6-month, and yearly tasks. I do what I can for the week, each day indicating on the fridge via color coded magnetic "spoons" what kind of day I'm having. This way, my husband knows what to tell people that call when he gets home, or visitors, if he has to cook or not b/c I'm napping, etc. We completely talked out and decided what doing laundry means to us, what cleaning the floors means, etc. So if he is not too tired, or I didn't get his work clothes washed, he knows exactly where to jump in at (and is quite willing!!)

Finally, we hired an "assistant" of sorts to come in twice a month to fill in any gaps. She cleans homes but for me, aside from cleaning what I'm behind on, helps me figure out grocery lists, rx sorting, etc. Of course family members can take this role as well but in our situation, our family does so much for us on their own that we chose not to ask for more. And I refused to put any more on my husband's shoulders.

Yes our house is still messy at times, unorganized, and dirty. But the sense of being overwhelmed with it is gone. We do the best we can everyday. Counseling I think has also helped me to "get a grip" on things as well as our week long purge of our house! It is true what others have said; getting rid of what you don't need not only clears your house but also your mind. Especially when you don't get out much anymore.

Thanks for the tips and best wishes to all!
Kelly - feel free to email me with any questions

Guest's picture

I realize this was written last year, but I will post anyway in case it helps someone. Lighter laundry soap: powder I put in ziplock bags before heading to laundry, liquid - I save single serving juice containers with screw lids (like ones sold at a convenience store), and pour what I need in the smaller container. helps immensely.

Shelly Norris's picture

I too have Lupus and am a stay at home mom.Among all the problems Lupus brings,I have many other health problems as well.I cried reading everyone's comments. I am so overwhelmed by my illness and trying to be a mother and take care of my home.My house is a wreck and I can't seem to get it under control or get my Lupus under control.I am also searching for answers and tips to living with this chronic illness. Some days I'm optimistic that it will get better and some,like today,I'm utterly depressed and overwhelmed by everything I need to do.Not to mention Christmas is only days away and I am so behind.I wish I had some kind of tips to share,but I do share and relate to your problems.Everyone's comments have given me hope and inspiration.It's hard to deal with everything in life and chronic illness,you have all helped me to not feel alone today. THANK YOU FOR YOUR TIPS and HANG IN THERE!

NancyJ's picture

Early on, I decided which room was giving me the most stress and made a plan to get it under control. It can take a while when organizing one shelf or one drawer a day is all that is reasonably possible. The trick is to keep it organized after it is done so that it doesn't become part of the problem again.

Slowly, the house became clean and organized. Hubby helps when he's up to it. My grown children help when the need arises--there is only so much I can do from a wheelchair.

But the best advise is to set reasonable expectations and accept them. It's one thing to set the goal of sweeping the kitchen floor and quite another to accept that something so simple is a full day's work. In a rip off of the Serenity Prayer, "do what you can and accept what you can't."

Everyone has limits--even healthy people. With chronic illness, pushing our limits is counterproductive. Know what you can do and don't stress over what you can't do.

Delegate whenever possible.

Always find time for something joyful--every day, several times each day.

Celebrate the little things.

That reminds me, I've just finished clearing my dining table. I'll celebrate with a warm cup of cocoa and few moments of conversation with hubby....

blake's picture

I've been having an aching pain in my lower back, oblique and upper abdominal region. I'm thinking it may be CFS, but I don't have a lot of the symptons of it (I don't have any flu like symptons or swollen glands. I work out every day and I don't notice any lethargy (not more than usual hah). I've been working out my abs (I use one of those stupid contour belt things so you know what i'm talking about. That could possibly explain the aching in the abdominal section, but it doesn't account for the obliques and my back.

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